Since its release, Farah Nabulsi’s directorial debut project, The Present, has garnered consistent attention and accolades. The short film has been nominated for an Oscar, won a BAFTA, and received numerous awards from renowned festivals like the Claremont-Ferrand and the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.
“Why are you here?” an Israeli settler asks Yusef, an average Palestinian man looking to cross an Israeli checkpoint near his home in the Occupied West Bank. Yusef, our protagonist, is accompanied by his daughter Yasmine as they navigate checkpoints and Israeli soldiers on a typical day out to buy his wife an anniversary present.
The film’s plot is fairly simple, or rather, it is meant to be. But we soon realize that there is no such thing as a normal day in this political landscape. Where the trip should be an easy one, Israeli settlement and occupation makes it almost impossible; from Yusef and his daughter being humiliated by young Israeli soldiers, to being forced to walk all the way home after a checkpoint turns away their friend’s car.
Throughout the film, Nabulsi juxtaposes the images of the happy family and bright sunny day with harrowing details: the loud, screeching sound of the checkpoint doors, the flickering lights of a broken refrigerator; details that remind us that life in Palestine as a Palestinian comes with numerous roadblocks.
This is perhaps most obvious in the early shots of the infamous Checkpoint 300, an Israeli checkpoint where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians must pass through every morning to get to work. We see Yusef make his way through the checkpoint late at night, on his way home from work. These shots are the only ones in the film that are not staged, but rather a product of Nabulsi’s directing and guerrilla filmmaking.
At many points in the film, we see the world through Yasmine’s eyes. We see how she sees the Israeli settlers pass easily through checkpoints. We see how she sees her father forced to sit in a cage for no reason at all, like the little caged bird she finds at a shop. And at the end, we see how she takes matters into her own hands, giving us both hope and pride in the strength of Palestinian girls.
While The Present is not the first film tackling these issues, it’s popularity and success is a breath of fresh air in an industry that rarely allows the spotlight on Palestine. Although short, The Present requires multiple viewings to catch every nuance and detail. With the Oscars approaching this April 25th, we’re excited to see Farah Nabulsi grow in the film industry, giving light to such important and humanist stories.
The Present was featured as part of InFocus: Arab Cinema 2020, a program showcasing the best of Arab short films. It is hosted annually by AFMI, in partnership with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and NewFilmmakers Los Angeles.
The Present is also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short film. Learn all about the history of Arab Cinema at the Oscars and then make sure to tune into this year’s ceremony on Sunday, April 25th to support the film!
Interested in watching the film? It is available now on Netflix and other digital platforms.
Written by Jena Maya Ezzeddine